Reading is not my best learning style.
In today’s world of podcasts and audiobooks, I believe that fewer and fewer people are accustomed to learning by reading and writing. For me, this is undoubtedly the case.
I love learning through audiobooks and video training. I used these learning methods exclusively to pass some challenging IT Certification tests, including passing the CISSP test earlier this year.
No expensive boot camp needed
I am not a fan of CISSP boot camps. I believe that many of the companies that run these week-long training classes are doing a disservice to the folks taking the classes and to the certification process itself.
Boot camps promise to prepare you to pass the CISSP. Many people think that they can cough up thousands of dollars, and they will get inside information on what questions will be on the CISSP exam. But this is not the case.
Nobody can tell you what questions you will encounter on the CISSP exam. No one.
I have never seen such high security when taking a certification test. The CISSP test is only available at specific Person VUE locations that have strict controls. The security is intense.
Your IDs are checked and double-checked. You will be required to do a biometric hand scan multiple times. You will be on camera 100% of the time that you are taking the test. In addition to the camera, you will be watched by a live person the whole time.
Given the high security and the many thousands of possible questions, rest assured that there is no cheating on this test. There are not “brain dumps” that will tell you what questions you will get on the exam. The only way to successfully conquer the CISSP exam is to know the eight domains that the test covers.
But there is a trick.
Because the CISSP test covers such a vast array of topics and details, it is nearly impossible to know that answers to all of the questions. When I took the exam, I was pretty confident that I knew the answers to about 75% of the questions. But 75% will not get you a passing score.
The trick to passing this mind-bending test is to become an expert test taker. Specifically, you need to become an expert at taking multiple-choice tests. There is an easy way to master this, but it takes a lot of time to do.
If you follow my study plan, you can pass the CISSP exam with three months of study, and without reading any books.
That is a tall claim, but I know it works. I started studying in January, and I passed the exam on March 20th. I did not have the time or patience to sit down and read the thick exam guides. Reading these books don’t provide me with a lot of value because I can read a whole chapter and then realize that I do not even remember what I read.
The solution for me is not to keep re-reading chapters over and over. It may work, but I don’t have the time to spend hours and hours mastering each domain.
My Study Plan – Less than three months.
The first thing that I did was to get some audiobooks on Audible.com.
Week 1– Complete the following audiobook: Essential CISSP Exam Guide: Updated for the 2018 CISSP Body of Knowledge
This audiobook gives you a good overview of the exam content. It is the perfect starting place for your studies. I listened for several hours per day. Specifically, I listened during my commute to work. I also listened while at home. I listened all the time until it was over.
Then I listened to the whole thing a second time.
Week 2 – Watch the free CISSP training videos at Cybrary.it
A friend of mine told me about the certifications training at Cybrary.it. This video training is free, and I found that the CISSP course was pretty good. I watched this training on my iPhone, and it took me about a week to complete the course. I listened to the videos on my commute to work, glancing at the video during traffic stops. I expect that this Cybrary.it training is as effective as most of the expensive boot camps that you will find.
Week 3 – At this point, I thought that I had a good handle on the content that I expected to be on the CISSP exam. I felt that I did, but I didn’t. I realized that during the next step in my study plan.
Listen to the audiobook – Simple CISSP Exam Questions
This audiobook reads sample questions to you. Over 4000 of them. Question after question. After each question, the answer is given.
After I started listening to the sample questions, I realized that I was not at all ready to sit for the CISSP exam.
So, I listened to all of the questions and answers again. I listened to this audiobook constantly. I listened and learned. If I did not understand the answer to a question, I would google the subject and figure it out.
Week 4 – Watch the Cybrary.it free training videos again.
It was almost torturing to watch the video series again. But it was worth it because now I could relate the material to the sample questions that I listened to in the audiobook. The Cybrary video now had more meaning to me because I understood how the content directly related to the sample test questions.
I watched the videos on my iPhone every night until I fell asleep.
Week 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – I did not realize this at the time, but I now began the most crucial part of my training.
I mentioned that I was preparing for the test to a few cybersecurity folks that I knew from my church and work. Three of these people told me the same thing. They said that the key to passing the test is to take practice exams over and over. Of course, this made sense to me. I already know this.
But what caught me off guard is that all three of them told me to use a strangely named website for the practice exams: cccure.
So, I went to cccure. And I got to work.
This site does an excellent job of simulating the actual exam. I used this website to become an expert test taker. I answered every single question on the test engine, and I reviewed the answers to the questions. I memorized the answers and why they were correct.
I fully expected that I would see the same or very similar question on the actual exam.
Then I answered all of the test questions again.
I spend several hours on most days, just taking the practice tests. If there were something that I did not understand, then I would google the answer and figure it out.
I spend almost two months taking these practice tests. Over and over. By doing this, I was memorizing the answers. As I said, I honestly expected that I would see the same questions on the test.
I was dead wrong.
The actual test did not have any of the questions from the practice test. There were a handful of similar questions, but not a single one was the same. Most of the questions were entirely and significantly different from the practice tests that I took.
But taking the practice tests over and over again taught me something that was the key to my success on the actual test. I became an expert on taking tests. I learned how to analyze the questions. Even when the questions were on subjects of which I had little or no knowledge, I was able to deduce the answers. I could instantly discard one or two of the answers. Then I could confidently analyze the remaining answers and make a choice that I calculated to be correct based on my knowledge and my test-taking skills.
I passed the CISSP exam on my birthday.
The test was expensive, and I did not know If I was ready. I was more concerned about losing the $700 than anything. That is a lot of money to throw away.
But, I went ahead and scheduled the test for March 20th – My birthday. Passing the CISSP exam would be my birthday present to myself.
After completing all the audiobook listening. After watching video training until my brain hurt. After doing weeks and week of practice questions…
I went to the high security of the test center.
I sat through the grind and found the exam filled with entirely unexpected questions. Hour after hour of questions….
I walked out of the exam and found that I passed.
Donald Korinchak is a Cybersecurity Program Director serving customer in the Washington DC area. Donald holds an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business. Donald is considered a thought leader in leadership and cybersecurity issues.